How clean are cars in Europe, and what does the VW ‘Dieselgate’ scandal mean for the European car industry?
The exposure of Volkswagen as an emissions test cheat in the US has put the spotlight on the other side of the Atlantic.
The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) says there is no evidence of an industry-wide issue, and Renault, Peugeot Citroen and Fiat Chrysler have all denied breaching test rules.
But if the situation in the US is serious, for Volkswagen it is a disaster and in Europe it’s potentially seismic.
Demand for diesel has soared over the past 20 years, helped by cheaper fuel and various incentives such as tax breaks and cheaper parking charges.
Industry figures show that in 2014 more than half (53 percent) of cars sold in Europe had diesel engines, way above the global average (19.8 percent) and the tiny proportion of sales in the States (2.75 percent).
VW has admitted that illegal software was installed in 11 million vehicles globally.
It has given added impetus to long-standing claims that regulation in Europe is lax – and that for years the industry has manipulated tests.
Environmental groups such as the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), which first spotted VW’s diesel trickery, have warned for years that tests are being “gamed” by the industry – a view now broadly shared by the European Commission.
The ICCT says revelations of VW’s alleged circumvention of emissions tests highlights the need for air pollution laws to be enforced across the auto industry, adding that its research in Europe has repeatedly found gaps between real world emissions and regulatory certification levels.
The European Parliament environment committee has backed tougher testing rules designed to counter potential cheating.
Pollution control standards have long been in force but according to analyst Max Warburton at Bernstein, a brokerage, “all manufacturers deliberately engineer their cars to do well in tests”. If anything, he added, “the risk of manufacturers playing games to hit the standards has probably increased in recent years”.
Some European governments are going further amid concern that other carmakers may have used banned software to trick the tests. Germany, France and Britain are among countries that have demanded investigations or launched their own.